Growing Garlic ( and Roasting It)

(Please scroll down or hit coming attractions for the Garden Tour Plant List)

With garlic, it’s almost impossible to fail completely. Plant one clove, get one multi-clove bulb, pretty much no matter what. The catch is that it’s quite easy to fail partially. I did for years, simply because I kept planting softneck garlic, the most common kind, even though I was in Maine and the garlic wanted to be in Southern California. Over and over, I got small bulbs filled with small cloves that were very tedious to peel, a defect slightly mitigated by the fact that the garlic was so incredibly strong and hot you didn’t need (or want) much.

What I’ve learned since:

* If you live in the North, plant hardneck garlic, the kind with the stiff stem running up the middle. It’s much hardier than softneck garlic. Bigger and sweeter, too. ( it doesn’t store as well, but it stores well enough).

* Big cloves make big bulbs. When you get your seed garlic, either at the farmers’ market or from a source like Filaree Farm; plant only the large outer cloves. Eat the smaller cloves at the center or plant them in the perennial border and let them stay there indefinitely, making larger and larger clumps of their gorgeous, twirly stems.

* Plant in well-drained, fertile, weed-free soil, in late September or early October. Goal is to have good strong roots but only short green shoots when hard frost puts growth on hold until spring.

* Garlic comes up early. So do weeds. Mulch helps, but you’ll probably still have to pull a few. The plants are too narrow to shade anything out and they have small, shallow roots that do not compete well.

* The combo of increasing warmth and lengthening days tells the plants to stop making leaves and start making bulbs. Energy to do this comes from those leaves, so the goal is to have them get as big as possible as soon as possible. ( A little fish emulsion at intervals never hurt anybody).

* Bulbs keep putting on size until mature and must be mature to store well, but if they stay in the ground after they’re ready, they split and spoil quickly. Generally speaking, it’s time to harvest when about half of the leaves have fallen over or turned brown or both. Dig on a dry day, brush off dirt, then spread the plants on racks ( screens on bricks, for instance) to dry. Ideal spot is a barn or shed that’s warm, dry and dark. Let the bulbs cure for about a month, then cut off the tops; hardneck is not braid material.

* Eat lots. No matter how you store it, it will start sprouting by February. We like:

Garlic Roasted With Olive oil and Potatoes: several head’s worth of peeled cloves for about 2 pounds of small , new potatoes. Big splash of oil in a jellyroll pan. Be sure potatoes are thoroughly dry, so they don’t stick. Roll everything around to coat well, then bake in the upper third of a 400 degree oven until interiors are soft and outsides have lots of crisp brown spots, about 45 minutes. Stir with a flat spatula from time to time. Malden salt at the half hour mark or at the end but not at the start.

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  • farmgirl Said,

    Thanks for such an informative article. I’d been growing hardneck garlic for years, saving some of my harvest to replant each fall. Then came the year I didn’t plant. Oops. So last fall I planted storebought organic garlic and didn’t realize until this spring that it was softneck. Still tasty, of course, but it’s just not the same. I also learned about spring green garlic this year, though, so that kind of made up for it. Talk about addicting stuff for a garlic lover.

    I’ve just discovered your site through a friend and am really looking forward to delving into it. The Garlic Roasted With Olive Oil & Potatoes sounds delish!

  • Pat Cooke Said,

    I planted hard neck garlic 5 weeks ago and it is now sending up strong shoots. I live in New Brunswick and my garlic has never sprouted in the fall. Should I dig up and replant?
    Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  • leslie Said,

    hi Pat,

    Congratulations! Having the garlic grow strong shoots in fall is a GOOD thing – it means the clove has put down substantial roots and will be stronger through the winter and faster to get going in spring. The shoots are very tough and sometimes stay green all winter, especially if there’s plenty of snow cover. But don’t worry if they die; the plant will put up new growth at the proper time.

    It sounds as though you’ve been at this a long time. Did you do anything different this year: use different stock or plant earlier, or plant in soil with better drainage, or with an extra shot of fertilizer? I’m hoping to attribute this to something other than climate change.

    Oh – just thought of something. 5 weeks ago was early September and that’s a bit on the early side unless you’re in zone 4. Nothing for you to worry about, but other readers can take comfort from knowing that it’s not too late to plant. We’re just getting ours in now, a bit on the late side but again, nothing to worry about. Mid-October is considered ideal in zones 5 and 6.

  • Pat Cooke Said,

    Many thanks. I am now in Saint John, NB having moved from Youngs Cove, NB (Zone 3 – 4). I guess that I just planted to early. I just finished replanting when I got your reply. The plants were very strong with a good 3 inch root development. I also plant a good 6 inches plus undergroung. Thank you for your prompt reply. I just can’t live without my garlic. Pat

  • rhonda givens Said,

    i guess this is actually my second year for garlic. the first yeat it died and came bact the second. i guess i’m not very smart, do i save a clove and replant it, some have told me it comes back on it’s own. any helpful hints will be appreciated. i have only 1 plant and we eat tons. please help rhonda

  • leslie Said,

    welcome Rhonda,

    and thanks for the question ( it’s SMART to know what you don’t know, imho).

    Expect others may have similar wonders so will do a fast post on getting ready – garlic is planted in fall so there’s plenty of time. Please check the blog in a day or two for details; there should be something there by 6/05 (09) or sooner.

    Meanwhile, the thing to know is that 1 clove planted in fall equals one bulb to harvest the following July, so start surveying your planting space now to see how much you can devote to a crop. Tons is going to take a lot of space, I’m afraid, though the plants are pretty compact.

    More soon!

  • John Thompson Said,

    I live in Fredericton, NB, and have tried to grow garlic without much success over the last two years. I want to plant hard neck, but am wondering how I should prepare the soil for the best results. I have two square foot garden sections, in a usually shady part of the garden. Any advice on soil prep and garlic bulb purchases, would be very welcome.


    John Thompson

    hi John, There’s a pretty thorough how-to on the site, which should answer most of your questions.

    Unfortunately, it can’t help with what’s likely to be your greatest difficulty – not enough sun. Hardneck garlic will grow in the shade (as far as I can see, it’ll grow anywhere), but it won’t produce robust heads unless it gets plenty of light.

    The plants take up very little space, so if you have a sunny spot you where you can tuck a few in, by all means use it (Garlic plants are pretty enough to go well in flower gardens); and you could probably get a modest harvest from a deep, wide container that could be placed in a sunnier location than the beds you describe.

    Good luck!

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